Chapter 76: Interlude V – The Emperor

The Fiend has a daughter. She has the potential to become a bigger threat than the Fiend herself. Send Inquisitors to my location.

— Saintess Lilith

It was morning when the message reached the Xan Palace. It came as an encrypted message. Not that it mattered since it immediately spread quickly throughout the military wing— by the time it reached the Xavier’s ears, everyone important had already heard about it.

Well, everyone that was important excluding Xavier himself. It could be argued that he was the most important individual not just in the Xan Palace or the Holy Xan Empire, but the entire world. Not that he thought of himself that way. But it could not be disputed that he was the Emperor of the largest and most powerful nation in the world.

Regardless, the message reached him last, and when he read it, he spat out his drink.

“The Fiend has a what?”

“A daughter, your majesty,” Emlen— his Steward— said.

Xavier rose from his seat, putting down the cup of tea back onto its saucer as he wiped himself down. “And you’re sure this is true?” he asked.

“Yes, your majesty.” Emlen’s facial expression did not change as the Emperor straightened his uniform, trying to appear more befitting of his imperial station. “The telegraph was not only written in code that only high ranked officials would know, but attached with the special designation Saintess Lilith was assigned for her most recent mission. It has been verified by Saint Justin to be legitimate.”

Placing one hand on his chin, Xavier began pacing back and forth as he considered the implication of this. Bigger threat than the Fiend? he thought, furrowing his brows. That’s dangerous.

It wasn’t an Empire-ending kind of a danger. If the Fiend and her many accomplices such as the Imp, the Nuckelavee, and the rest of the Shadow’s Evangelium failed to topple the Holy Xan Empire, a single girl shouldn’t either. No, the threat here came from what she could possibly do if she gathered powerful allies.

Currently, the Dark Crusaders were barely in the radar of the Empire. Not only were they located in the continent of Vitae— across the world— but the Holy Xan Empire was currently engaged with… a more troublesome problem.

Xavier’s eyes flickered as his gaze found the report lying on his desk. It was the most recent report on the team of Inquisitors led by Saint Noelle against the Cult. And from what was detailed in the report— they were all dead.

It was a terrible loss to the Empire. A tragedy that would have to be announced at a later date— when people weren’t as panicked over the Abominations that came from the same group that killed Noelle.

And while Xavier had met him before, it was only through his reputation that Xavier knew he was a kind man. He was not the most powerful Saint, nor the most well known one. But still a kind man. It made Xavier’s heart ache knowing such a man died when it could have been prevented. Perhaps if Theron did not fail…

Xavier paused. He turned to his Steward, standing back straight to the side. “Was Saint Theron not the one who slew the Fiend half a year ago?”

“Indeed he was, your majesty,” Emlen said, bowing his head slightly. “I believe it was during his pursuit of the Cult where he found the Fiend hiding in a small village on the outskirts of the Rem Republic, although I can find further details about this encounter if you wish it.”

“No, that’s fine Emlen.” The Emperor shook his head. “I am sure I would recall a mention of a daughter, had such a thing been brought up.”

The Steward raised an eyebrow. “Do you suspect that Saint Theron omitted this information, your majesty?”

“Perhaps,” Xavier said, rubbing his chin. Finding his coat and donning it, the Emperor combed his white hair back with his hand and strode around his desk. “I will bring this issue up with the Church. Inform the Grand Inquisitor and all the relevant nobles that there will be a meeting tonight. We will discuss this issue there. Otherwise, ensure that speculation remains at a minimum. There has been enough instability within the nobility as of late.”

“As you wish.” Taking a step back, Emlen bowed as Xavier passed him. The two Sacred Guards behind him held the grand double doors open as the Emperor left the room. “And may I inquire as to where you are headed, your majesty?”

“To speak with Saint Justin. I desire his counsel.”

Xavier walked through the halls of the palace, drawing eyes from those who saw him. It was not unusual for the Emperor himself to make an appearance in his own palace, but this was not his palace. Well, it was not his part of the palace.

Currently, Xavier was in the religious wing of the palace. The Xan Palace was not just a single structure reserved solely for him. Rather, it was split into four quadrants: the imperial wing where the Emperor presided, the religious wing where the Church presided, the noble wing where the nobility presided, and the military wing which was almost influenced by all three groups.

And since he was in neither the imperial wing or the military wing, he was essentially in unknown territory. Or rather, that would have been the case had he not known where he was going.

Xavier pushed open the golden door and entered the private temple. It was a small room— barely even the same size as the Emperor’s office itself. And it did not help that the place was lined with rows of candles going all around the sides, creating a thin haze that partially obscured the figure standing by the altar.

The figure did not turn to greet Xavier even as he made his approach. Instead, the figure remained in solemn silence with his head bowed and his hands on the table. Xavier stopped right behind the figure as they continued their quiet prayer, muttering words of reverence to the Goddess of Light.

Finally, after the figure finished, they pushed themselves off the altar, straightening their back and tidying their robes. They were a man— an older man— senior to Xavier by two decades. But despite his age, he had a head full of tidy brown hair and a face belonging to someone ten years younger. Certainly, standing side by side, one wouldn’t be able to tell that there was such a stark age gap between Xavier and the man.

However, the stern look he carried did not betray his age, but told anyone who met him of his experience and rank. “Your majesty,” the man said, turning to face the Emperor. “Your presence honors me.”

“You know you don’t have to address me by my title, Justin. We’re friends here.” Xavier offered a hand and a smile to him.

The Saint accepted the kindly greeting, but continued with his formal speech. “Did you need something of me, your majesty?”

“I would like to hear your thoughts on a matter.”

“My thoughts on a matter?” He furrowed his brows. “Would your advisers not provide a better perspective?”

“You know I trust your advice, Justin,” Xavier said, closing his eyes. A scene played in his head. And for just a brief moment, he could feel his heart racing and hands shaking once again. The feeling went away as soon as it came, but the gratitude he felt never left. “You saved my life. That amounts to more than I could ever give you.”

Justin simply bowed his head. “I appreciate the sentiment, your majesty. But I was simply doing my job.”

“Of course.” The Emperor opened his eyes, and turned to the older man. “And it is because you are so diligent in your duties that I have come to you. I believe you must have heard the news?”

Saint Justin visibly hesitated, his lips drawing into a thin line beneath his beard. “If you are referring to the Fiend’s apparent… daughter, then I have been well informed, your majesty.”

“Good, I—” Xavier cut himself off. He saw Justin avert his gaze for a single moment, before regaining his composure. “Justin,” he said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Are you alright?”

“I am fine. Thank you for your concerns, your majesty.”

The Emperor narrowed his eyes, boring his gaze into the older man. He knew he shouldn’t have pressed the issue, but he wanted to know. “Do you regret that she died—”

Justin spoke quickly, almost interrupting him. “The Fiend was exterminated. She deserved her fate. I have no regrets about the circumstances involving her demise.”

The Saint paused, realizing his tone and caught himself. He bit his lower lip as he continued slowly.

“If I have any regrets, your majesty, it is that I wasn’t there to personally slay Valeria myself.”

His eyes flashed— and it was not just in a figurative sense. Something in the hazel eyes of Saint Justin glowed a brilliant blue. Like a fire— but not a real one. Xavier nodded and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“The Fiend was truly a malicious individual,” the Emperor said. He looked over at the alter, then at the candles lined throughout the room. He shook his head. “However, could the same thing be said of her daughter?”

“What do you mean, your majesty?” Justin asked after having calmed himself.

Xavier did not respond immediately. Instead, he lifted his hand off Justin’s shoulder and placed it gently on the altar. His fingers slowly traced the gold carving of a flame on its center, as he eyes found itself glancing heavensward— at the mural on the ceiling.

The mural painted atop in this private temple was a beautiful one. Made in collaboration with the best artists of the Holy Xan Empire. It depicted not a single scene, but a timeline. From the start of Damnation just above the doorway, to the end of Damnation with the Goddess of Light banishing the Devil directly overhead where the two men were standing.

The Goddess of Light was simply a figure of light. She had no features but the vague outline of a body that glowed. One that illuminated the darkness that came from Damnation, and purified the souls of all living things suffering within it. She had Her arms stretched to the side as the Devil— an incarnation of that darkness and suffering— cowered in fear before Her rays.

It was Her kindness that saved the world from Damnation. That was why all peoples worshipped Her, even if they might have had other disagreements about Her. No one believed that She did not end their suffering and the Devil’s rule. That was the truth of the world.

Kindness, Xavier thought. It was always taught in schools and by the Church. Such was an important quality for the existence of society. And yet, why were the heretics never treated the same?

He shook his head. “Saint Theron was the one responsible for slaying the Fiend, was he not? Did he not report the existence of the Fiend’s daughter to the Church?”

“He did not, your majesty,” Justin said. “I have spoken to him after I heard of Saintess Lilith’s message, but he claims to have been unaware of this girl.”

“And what if he is lying?” Xavier asked, raising an eyebrow.

Justin frowned. “I don’t believe he would, your majesty. Saint Theron is a devout member of the Church and the best Saint I know. Keeping such an important piece of information for himself— or rather, not seizing the girl and bringing her to Xanderia? That does not seem like him.”

“Perhaps.” The Emperor lowered his head and placed one hand on his chin. “However, do you believe Saint Theron has been acting like himself ever since he returned from his mission?

“I have received various reports— mostly complaints— coming from the nobility. They are unhappy about the boy he had brought back with him from the Rem Republic. They believe it is only because of Saint Theron’s influence that the boy was admitted to the Academy, and they wish for me to take actions against the Church for it.”

“I have looked into the boy— Adrian— and he is very much qualified to be in the Academy, your majesty.”

“That does not matter.” He sighed and turned to Justin. “The issue comes from Saint Theron— has he ever done something like this before?”

“I don’t believe he has,” the older man said. “However, coming from an orphanage himself and losing out on opportunities as a child, I don’t see how this is out of character for him. He has helped plenty of children before find homes in Xanderia— especially those living near the Gates of Hell who have lost their towns and villages.”

“But none were ever brought to the Academy.” Xavier crossed his arms. “That is different. By exerting his influence to do so, he jeopardizes his rank by bringing the nobilities ire towards the Church. It is too much risk for a random boy, no?”

Justin cocked a brow. “What are you implying?”

“Nothing of the sort that you’re thinking about,” Xavier said. “Just that it is an unusual thing to do. Tell me, Justin, what has Saint Theron been doing in over the half year that passed since he returned?”

“He has taken a step back from his duties as a Saint,” Justin replied slowly. Creases formed in his brows as he considered this. “He has spent more time studying and in temples than before, citing a desire to repent for his failure to protect the Inquisitors under him.”

“And has he ever done that before?”

“He has mourned for everyone who he has failed to protect— but no, never to this extent.” He pursed his lips and turned back to Xavier. “What are you thinking, your majesty?”

“I’m not sure either,” the Emperor said. “But perhaps Saint Theron saw something. Perhaps he saw something that made him seek repentance. And maybe that’s why he spared the Fiend’s daughter and chose not to tell us about her.”

“With all due respect, your majesty, that is impossible. You know as well as I do that magic is heresy. The Shadow’s Evangelium nearly succeeded in assassinating you. They destroyed cities and towns. Bringing justice to a heretic— especially one as vile as the Fiend— is not something he would ever need to repent.”

“Maybe not.”

Perhaps he came a little too forward to Justin. Someone who had fought against the Shadow’s Evangelium for the entirety of its existence wouldn’t have the most positive opinion of spellcasters. However…

“But something did happen. Something that made Saint Theron choose to show… kindness to the girl. So shouldn’t we take that into consideration and do the same?”

Saint Justin considered this. He slowly nodded his head in agreement. “It would certainly be unfair to hold this girl accountable for her mother’s crimes. And yet, Saintess Lilith calls for aid. She believes that she needs help to capture this girl. To a certain extent, she has to be a danger, your majesty.”

“What do you suggest, Justin?” Xavier asked. “The Grand Inquisitor and the nobility would certainly press me to fulfill her request. What can I do to ensure real justice is carried out? What happens if this girl is not even related to the Fiend, and is falsely killed?”

“Saintess Lilith requested for Inquisitors. However, the Church is stretched too thin as of late due to the Abominations. And especially considering what happened to the last team of Inquisitors that accompanied her— I don’t believe that can be done, even if the Grand Inquisitor would insist it’s possible.”

Certainly, the Grand Inquisitor would try to have his Inquisitors sent out in this mission. Doing so would only increase his influence, after all. And in light of recent events which diminished the Empire’s entire standing in addition to the nobility incessantly clawing away at his power? The rank of Emperor held less power now than it ever did ever since the Empire’s very formation.

“But if I refuse to hear answer the Saintess’ call for assistance and demand her return, I would be accused of being incompetent— they would paint me to be a bigger fool than they already have.”

Justin spoke reassuringly. “So you give both the Saintess and the nobility what they wanted,” he said. “Don’t send Inquisitors. Send your Holy Knights.

“Ever since the Cult brought the Abominations to Vitae, somehow— for whatever reason— the hordes of Abominations coming from Hell have decreased, have they not? That was why we felt it was not a risk to take Saintess Lilith out from guarding the Gates of Hell. It wouldn’t be a risk to call back some Holy Knights as well, no?”

Xavier considered this with a nod. Then snapping his fingers, he exclaimed. “And if I handpick the Holy Knights who have previously worked with Saintess Lilith, they would be able to manage her better. Prevent her from acting out of line— prevent her from escaping and from unnecessarily killing the girl.”

Saint Justin appeared to be slightly apprehensive. “Your majesty, if I may ask, why are you so adamant on ensuring this girl doesn’t die?”

The Emperor paused. Something flashed in his mind. Anger. Pure rage.

Words that forever haunted him from that day onwards. Why do you oppress us? Why can you live in peace while we must die in suffering? Xavier felt a shiver run up his spine as he tried to compose himself. Clearing his throat, he skirted around answering the question.

“Because it is the right thing to do, Justin,” he said. “The court decides what justice is to be delivered on a person. Whether or not they deserve death— they should always be tried.”

“I see.” Justin nodded his head. “I apologize for my questions. I may be a Saint, but I am not perfect. I simply wanted to understand your perspective, your majesty.”

Xavier waved a hand dismissively. “There’s no need to apologize. And do call me by my name for once.”

“I don’t believe that would be possible, your majesty.”

He snorted. “Fine.” He shook his head, then his eyes glinted. “But if you can at least do me another favor— there’s another reason why I came to see you.”

Justin looked at him inquisitively. “And that is?”

Emperor Xavier smiled slyly. “I require some assistance for a meeting later on…”

Truth be told, while Xavier was probably the most important single person in the world, he sometimes felt like he was also the most powerless. As Emperor, he was supposed to hold the supreme power over the entire continent of Soli. And yet, he often found his hands tied whenever the Church or the nobility objected to a course of action he proposed.

It was exemplified in the current scene. The Grand Inquisitor stood in defiance against him, trying to force him to let the Church deal with the Fiend’s daughter and Saintess Lilith— it was their responsibility after all!

“Emperor Xavier, while I understand your logic, I would like to dispute your claim that the Church is overspending its resources. I can assure you that our Inquisitors are perfectly capable of handling this Abomination problem while dealing with these heretics in another continent. If you would just leave this minor problem to me and take care of more pressing matters—”

And past that greedy man seeking to only increase his power were the masses of greedy men and women trying to only increase their wealth and influence. Most of them could not care less about this issue. In fact, they probably would not have even gathered here if they weren’t asked to by the man leading them

The main heir to the Corinna Dukedom brought a hand down to the table, protesting Xavier’s decision while riling up his supporters. Well, they were only supporters in the sense that they saw this as an easy opportunity to cozy up with the man who wanted to protect his family’s reputation for when he became the Duke.

“Your majesty, this girl can not be allowed to live. She is the daughter of the Fiend! Such a vile, evil creature must be slain at once! No need for trial. No need for leniency. The safety of the entire Empire depends on it!”

Such were the objections Xavier often heard. And while such objections would typically force him to comply with their demands, Xavier instead found himself standing his ground. Because for today, he had allies.

To his left stood the Archbishop and Saint Justin. The Archbishop came at Justin’s request— which in turn came from Xavier’s request. While the Church was probably the most powerful institution within the Holy Xan Empire— it was not a united institution. The powers at the top of the Church were split between the Archbishop and the Grand Inquisitor.

And while Justin was a Saint, he did come from a noble family. He might not be the heir to his house, but he was still certainly influential within it. And it wasn’t just a regular noble family— it was the Livius Dukedom. So with these two equalizing powers to the opposition, Xavier managed to pass his decree:

The Fiend’s daughter is to be brought back to Xanderia alive, where she will then face trial for any crimes or acts of heresy she may have committed. Saintess Lilith will be accompanied by a retinue of Holy Knights to accomplish this mission.

It was not much, but Xavier felt content. Perhaps he could have tried to do more to ensure the girl wasn’t unfairly killed— but too much would have raised some questions. Questions he would not be able to answer.

But he did his good deed. He was not a monster— many people within the Holy Xan Empire and the Church recognize that indiscriminately killing heretics was not right. It took a while, but that was why he overturned his mother’s law that dictated all heretics— noble or commoner— were to be executed for violating Holy Law.

Small acts. But eventually, Xavier hoped it would accumulate. That maybe actual change could be brought forth— that heresy wasn’t treated as the most evil thing in the world to be killed for, but to be renounced and forgiven.

He just hoped that this girl— whoever she was— would somehow know that he was trying to help her. And him sparing her life would not come back to bite him in the future.

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